For nearly 400 years, Christmas in
was not celebrated. The reason for this stems from the Protestant Reformation. The Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian, felt that Christmas was, by and large, a Catholic celebration and as such was frowned upon. To all intents and purposes, Christmas was a regular day. People went to work and carried on about their business in everyday fashion. This began in 1560 and really carried on through to the mid 1950s. Even then, it was a half day holiday. Gifts were small, often just one gift or a stocking with gifts rather than the multitude of gifts we see today. Scotland
New Years Day was a public holiday and New Years Eve was, and still is, a major celebration. The history behind both the celebration of and the name Hogmanay is up for debate. However, many feel that the celebration is carried on from Norse traditions which celebrated the arrival of the Winter Solstice. Indeed, many Hogmanay celebrations throughout Scotland actually involve fire festivals. Stonehaven near Aberdeen, the Torchlight procession in Edinburgh are two examples of this.
Hogmanay is steeped in tradition and ritual. Many Scots will take the time during the day on December 31 to clean the house and pay off all debts prior to the “ringing of the bells” at midnight. This ritual was known as redding (getting ready for the New Year). The reason for this was to clear out the remnants of the old year and welcome in a young, New Year with a clean slate.
A few branches of the Rowan tree would be put above the door to bring luck. Inside was mistletoe to prevent illness to those who lived within. Pieces of holly placed around the house were thought to keep out mischievous fairies. And finally, pieces of hazel were gathered and placed around the home to protect the house and all who lived in it. Then all the doors of the home would be opened to bring in fresh air. Once this final piece of the ritual was completed, the house was then considered to be ready for the New Year.
Immediately after midnight, it is traditional to sing "For Auld Lang Syne", in a circle of friends whose linked arms are crossed over one another as the clock strikes midnight for New Year's Day.
Perhaps the most important and revered Hogmanay custom is the practice of 'first-footing' which dates back to the Viking days. This involves the first person to cross the threshold once the New Year bells have been rung. Superstition states that the “first footer” should be a tall male with dark hair. The darker the man's complexion the better, since no one wanted a Viking (raider) turning up on their doorstep - that could only mean trouble! A dark complected man represented luck for the rest of the year. In addition, the first-footer needs to enter the home carrying salt, coal, a coin, shortbread, and whisky. These gifts represent goodness and abundance for the New Year. The Coal for
heat/warmth, the coin for financial prosperity, salt for flavour, shortbread for food and whiskey for good cheer. These gifts are then to be shared with the other guests so that the wishes for a good and prosperous year can then be spread around.
The traditions live on even today. The gifts are still presented by the first footers, although not necessarily to the extent that they once were. But most of all, the new year is rung in with a good old-fashioned Scots welcome and hospitality. And each and every one is wished “A guid New Year to ane an` a` and mony may ye see!”